He studied composition at the Paris Conservatoire and was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1905. He was the organist at Saint-Séverin from 1919–1922 and president of the Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique from 1935-1953. For many years he was a professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatoire and artistic director of the Pathé opera company. From 1941-1944 he was director of the Opéra National de Paris.
As a composer Samuel-Rousseau was highly influenced by the works of Franck and Fauré. He tended to be more conservative in style than many of contemporaries but he was a master at chromatic harmony and had a strong sense for the dramatic. His compositions include operas, ballets, orchestral and piano music and songs. His best works are his operas, which tend towards the exotic and are ambitious in scale. Two of his operas, Le Hulla (1920) and Kerkeb (1931), are based in the Orient; with the latter's title role a Barber dancer in a harem. His opera Tarass Boulba (1919), is based on the legend of a Cossack warrior. He also wrote one opera based on the Arthurian legend Le roi Arthur (1903).
- Paul Griffiths, Richard Langham Smith. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie (1992), ISBN 0-333-73432-7 and ISBN 1-56159-228-5
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